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Like the chili dog, the grilled cheese sandwich, and beer, the humble pizza is a deceptively simple food. I mean, how hard could it be? Get yourself some cheese, some sauce, a couple dozen slices of pepperoni and some veggies, layer it up, stick it in the oven, and you've got a pizza, right? Sorry, dorm dwellers. It ain't that easy. There are, at this moment, places all over town selling what you might call PSOs: Pizza Shaped Objects. Those things you get from Little Caesar's for 5 bucks? They might look like pizza. They might even smell like pizza. But don't kid yourself. If you pay less than a pack of smokes for it, it's definitely a PSO.
No, to be the real thing, a pizza has to be a little symphony — everything added with care. Screw up any part of it — crust, sauce, cheese, toppings — and you've shamed your pizza-making ancestors back to the beginning of time.
While there is some real pizza available out in West Little Rock these days (Razorback makes a serviceable pie, as does NYPD Pizza) the award for merit has to go to a new place called The Pizza Joint out on Highway 10. With a homey, neighborhood-place kind of atmosphere, dirt-cheap beer, and pizza that definitely feels the love, it might go far, though it's far from the city core.
Situated in a brand new building next door to one of this writer's favorite authentic Mexican places, La Palapa, the decor of The Pizza Joint is a bit crisp for my taste right now (I like a pizza place with that “lived in” feel), but surely it will weather well. The kitchen is over on the edge of the cozy dining room. Sitting there waiting for your pie, you can watch the cooks at work, which adds a good bit to the experience. Also welcome was the ever-friendly wait staff, which checked on us regularly throughout our meal.
The menu at Pizza Joint is extensive but not ungainly, with a good slate of salads, sandwiches, appetizers, and pizza offerings. Also on the menu: hot wings, so to indulge the inner caveman, we kicked things off with a dozen ($7.99) as appetizers. On the whole, they were pretty good if you're into that kind of thing — big, meaty drummies, coated in a dry breading that was hot enough to make you dab your forehead with a napkin. We don't usually like things that hot, but in this case it was a lovely heat, which we tamped down with several glasses of soda (thanks, kindly waitress!).
About the time we got the last flutter out of those wings, our pizza arrived. From the long list of specialty pizzas (they offer some oddball stuff like their Philly cheese steak pizza, as well as a build-your-own special), we'd considered the very tasty-sounding veggie pizza for a minute before falling back on habit and heading straight to the top of the food chain for The Pizza Joint's version of the supreme: the appetizingly named Garbage pizza ($17.99 for a 16-inch).
We hadn't specified a crust (you can get thick or thin) so it came on the default thin crust. It's kinda high-falutin' to talk about presentation with pizza, but this was a really pretty pie, loaded with lots of colorful veggies.
From the first bite, we knew this was the real thing. The crust was especially good: thin, but still with a bit of tooth to it, with the sweet, beery flavor that all good pizza crust should have. That foundation was covered with a nice cheese blend and veggies that were as tasty as they looked. Though our pie could have stood a bit more sauce (we tend to want our pizza swimming in marinara), the sauce that was there added a lot to the proceedings; a sweet, peppery concoction that tied everything together quite nicely.
In addition, we're proud to say that our Pizza Joint leftovers stood up well for the breakfast pizza challenge. By the next morning, the crust had lost a good bit of its crispness, but the toppings seemed to have melded even better after a soak in the fridge. A zap in the microwave, and it made for some great pajama dining.
While it's a bit of a haul out to Pizza Joint from, say, downtown, those on the western wall of Little Rock would do well to give Pizza Joint a shot. It's open for lunch only on Fridays and Saturdays as of this writing, but stopping for dinner definitely ought to be on your to-do list.
The Pizza Joint
6100 Stones Road
I know that drinking Pabst has become sort of a hipster thing to do, but The Pizza Joint offers PBR for a buck a can, every day, all the time. For $1 beer, I can run the risk of someone thinking I'm trying to be cool.
4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Beer, outside dining available on a covered deck, all credit cards accepted.